She is young, beautiful and she definitely does not lack style. She was listening to Lady Gaga when I called her. She wears red lipstick, writes a blog and has over ten thousand followers on Instagram. No, we are not talking about any well-known influencer, but about the Czech Hussite priest Martina Viktoria Kopecká. Are you surprised? You are not alone. Martina, as a member of the clergy, dispels previous myths and prejudices about the work of women in the church. In an interview for LP-life.com, this priest not only talked about her view of life and relationships, but also shared what bothers her sometimes.
Do people often ask you, why you are a priest with your visage?
Yes. I just recently agreed to an interview we filmed in a car. The host asked me how it had happened in my life that I had set out on this path, and he also said that I didn't really look like a priest. I asked him what he thought a priest looked like, and he basically described an "old hag" who doesn't care for herself, prays constantly, and doesn't know what life is.
On the one hand, it upset me because he described a personified prejudice that is really far from reality. On the other hand, it is probably a fact that we as Christians are seen very little in the world, so we can't assume that society will change its mind in a day.
What do you think the church should do to be a good example?
I think that the stumbling block is primarily in the communication of the church with the outside world. I don't think there's that much time and resources devoted to it, and when the church communicates, you usually don't even know about it.
But labeling and prejudice are not rooted in people only towards the church. We look at refugees, the LGBT group or people of other religions in the same way. Many people criticize and are hostile to socially marginalized minorities, but the question arises as to how many people have actually had a dialogue with them. We like to live in our quiet backyard, we have peace, no one provokes us with anything and we have no desire to go into the world. We do not let anyone touch our traditions, we celebrate Christmas or Easter, but basically as a society we know only basic information about these holidays. We often lack critical thinking and look at the world through various filters that are self-evident and automatic.
What do you mean?
I've always struggled with the fact that many people around me have kept to the familiar sayings "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush" or "don't step out of line too much, keep close to home" and followed these small-minded ideas. At the same time, we Czechs, as a nation, have had a lot of great people, great thinkers and writers in history.
For example, if you take the ideas of Václav Havel, they really resonated and showed that if we have inspiration and can rally behind someone, together as a nation we can do a lot. We witnessed this during the pandemic. I thought that Czechs were unreliable and could not be turned to for help and cooperation. But we were able to sew masks practically overnight and stick to wearing them carefully. It was a very nice time for me, confirming that human solidarity really works. In addition, it turned out that many people also longed for some spiritual fulfillment.
Yes, many people had time to just stop for a while…
Exactly. We had more time to think, more time to be with ourselves. Many people have told me in retrospect that this "compulsory leave" has essentially saved their lives because they were so overwhelmed with work, business, duties and bad relationships that all they needed was to switch off for a while. Suddenly, it is as if one really realizes what is valuable in life, what one can rely on. Nowadays, people ask questions about their spiritual life and explore their way of life. And that's what matters.
What should the church's communication with the public look like?
Jesus worked with fishermen. They were not nuclear physicists, they were people like us today. When we ask ourselves whether Jesus had "better material" around him than we have today, he certainly did not. He took in people who were close to him and who fished with nets. That is why I think that today's church should not completely shy away from being on current social networks and platforms. I think that if Jesus used Facebook today, he would use it firstly to invite people for a personal meeting.
When I started studying theology, I noticed how long and complicated the journey to church was for myself. I didn't know where to go, what to do there, what to say to whom and what would await me there at all. All these anxieties that I had are ones that both young and older people still experience today. The church should rid them of these fears. It should say, "It's okay to be searching, be here with us and ask what interests you."
We priests often suffer from similar blindness because we think that people simply must know what happens in church. In our church we do so-called practice services, where we gradually go through the service, stopping and explaining the meaning of individual parts and gestures. My desire is for people to come to church with confidence and not be embarrassed upon arrival. At the same time, I think that the church should offer a program for all ages and speak the language of today's age.
Young people today are hard to please consumers, which is why I am glad to have my colleagues from the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren, the Pastoral Brothers, who raise awareness in a humorous way. Yes, sometimes their videos are quite edgy, but that's exactly what sticks with people. There are a lot of priests who engage in various interesting activities on the side, some like to paint, some like to garden. My colleague priest Sandra, for example, studied brewing on the side.
What do you like?
I like to have a glass of wine and enjoy the feeling of existing. Recently, someone wrote to me: "Madam priest, if you continue to support the lobby of hard liquor and tobacco products, it will not turn out well." And I understand that. When I explain that the body is a temple, I do not only mean make-up or nice clothes, but also what we use to feed and water the body. We should seek balance without resigning on joy.
Of course, I don't want to encourage anyone to drink and smoke in excess. I just feel like it's not against faith. The road to addiction is short, it's appropriate to keep that in mind. After all, a few years ago I passed the state exam in addictology. To put it lightly, being a priest is basically a profession in which drinking alcohol is part of the job description.
How do men view your profession?
I'm sure the first two women our church ordained in 1947 definitely had it hard. But I haven't encountered any obstacles in our church anymore. I haven't met anyone who would tell me that because I'm a woman, I can't do this or that. Outside the church, however, my profession arouses curiosity and a paradoxical fascination, which sometimes even carries some implications.
It often happens that someone emails me and invites me somewhere and alludes to my appearance. If I can, I answer all questions. And I always try to answer politely, so I write: “Don't be mad, but I don't do private meetings. And if you want to come to church, you're welcome to. ”Then the person in question gets annoyed and accuses me of not being a good priest if I don't want to meet them. They begin to argue that they would actually want a confession out of our dinner or coffee and would be interested in a pastoral conversation. Then come reactions like what I'm actually all about, if I'm not able to go out with someone and an avalanche of accusations starts. I reserve my right to stop responding there.
But the usual reaction of men is a rather kind curiosity. When I was at the Synod of Bishops at the invitation of Francis in 2018, I was given a sign that said "fraternal delegate" because they did not have a female form for this position. It was hard at the beginning during my stay, almost no one talked to me. But as soon as I managed to have a conversation with the other pastors, they approached me with a lot of humanity. I could even say they treated me as a daughter whom they accept with all love and tolerance. Some even told me they were supporting me. Pope Francis himself took a picture with me in his robe. And then a few more times on other occasions.
As a priest, you often perform marriage ceremonies. But I wonder how it is in your private life with your relationships?
I tell myself that the Lord God knows what to do with me, and when it comes, it comes. Our clergy are married, and that's so good. I can't imagine how I could talk to people about relationships if I only drew from books or imagination. I believe that even in today's fast paced world, one can find a partner for life and that it makes sense to build relationships. To love and to be loved.
So do you follow your heart rather than your mind?
Definitely! Even though I am a very rational person, this is definitely not the case with relationships. (laughs) I'm convinced that each one person simply belongs with another. I believe that they are created for each other and should help each other grow and complement each other. And that without having to limit themselves. Their potential does not add up, but it multiplies.
On the other hand, I am not entirely convinced that everyone must manage to start a family within twenty-five years. As a family therapist, I often know that it is sometimes better for a couple to have a dignified divorce because there is verbal or physical violence in the marriage, and everyone suffers as a result.
Relationships are very important in our lives and give us a lot of strength, hope and faith. If we see that something is wrong with them and we have already tried all the possibilities, then it is probably best to end the relationship. Sometimes, during this process, a person embarks on a long journey to find out who they really are and what the meaning of their life is.
What are the most common problems that couples come to you with?
I am mostly approached by middle-aged people who, for example, already have children, but experience a certain loneliness despite being in a relationship. Those who feel very detached from each other come to me. The most common example is that a woman stays at home with her children, the father works and, in fact, they completely miss each other in daily life. The mother takes care of the children, but she does not have a partner or husband next to her. She only has someone next to her who gives her money, but doesn't live with her emotionally or intimately. Then there are conflicts where one does not know what the other thinks and does not ask about it. Couples then merely survive side by side, and children especially pay the price for it.
Do you ever feel lonely?
Yes, in fact, quite recently, I had such a crisis. I felt a lot of pressure, I didn't have time for anything and so I felt as if God was very far away. But I realized that what helps me the most is to really say it to God with humility. I am a person who is very active and I tend to speed up the waiting phase. I often have a crisis before my birthday. And my explanation is that I still have something I must grasp before I can move to the next stage. The worst was when I was soon to be the age of Christ. Now, from a step back, I look at my 33rd year as joyful and beautiful. And if there was pain in it, it turned into strength.
Yes, it has helped me understand many things in my life. Often, when faced with an irrational and paradoxical situation, I can only resolve it if I reach the very bottom of my own inner self. Of course, I get very angry with these problems, especially with things that keep repeating several times. When we meet the same type of people, when we deal with the same things at work, it means that we have to pay more attention to the given task. The moment we can handle it and we don't run away, maybe it won't come back.
You worked for a large company for a long time. Have you lost a lot of friends because of your new journey?
You know I lost most of them actually? I had friends at the corporate office where my decision was not met with too much understanding. Colleagues asked why I was leaving a well-paid job, where I had the opportunity for career growth.
I'm in contact with some of them, but I have more friends in the church. I don't feel like explaining to anyone anymore that I simply don't want to go to a party on Saturday night, because I have a service on Sunday morning and I need to be in good shape.
So can you say that you often "switch"?
This is sometimes the case when you are with people who do not know you. For example, when I'm at a wedding where I'm officiating, the people still see me as a priest. Just recently I was in Liberec for psychotherapeutic training. I was returning to the hotel in the evening, disheveled, tired, and I was met there by a lady who was riding a bicycle and shouted, “Oh hi! Madam priest. ”And she was on her way. In addition, I talk to myself on the street quite often.
How is that?
Either I have an audiobook on in my headphones and I comment on the plot, or I recite some sentences aloud for my upcoming sermon. So I think that if people ever meet me, they have to be scared sometimes. But again, a priest must be at least a little weird to be real.